Forest conference sows hope for restoration | Environment| All topics from climate change to conservation | DW | 23.03.2015
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Forest conference sows hope for restoration

Germany is a major contributor to greenhouse gases that are linked to climate change. But in 2011, the country launched a reforestation initiative. From an international conference, DW examines some first results.

What do Bianca Jagger and Germany's Environment Minister Barbara Hendricks have in common?

Both Mick Jagger's ex-wife and the German politician are strong supporters of reforestation initiatives. The two came together Saturday (21.03.2015) to promote a German-sponsored global reforestation plan at the second international Bonn Challenge conference.

The timing was no coincidence. Since 1971, the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) has used this day to commemorate International Day of Forests as a time to remember the continual worldwide destruction of forest areas.

The reduction in fossil fuels "cannot wait until 2050 - it has to happen now," Jagger said at the conference. The former model and actress is now an environmental activist and ambassador for the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN). Hendricks lobbied for more participants to join the initiative, saying reforestation helps reestablish basic living standards for millions of people.

Bonn Challenge

Bianca Jagger at Bonn Challenge 2.0 conference (Photo: DW/K. Jäger)

Bianca Jagger urged politicians to waste no time in reforestation efforts

The German plan, launched in 2011 and known as the Bonn Challenge, calls for 150 million hectares of forest - an area four times larger than Germany - to be reforested by 2020.

Forests have been decimated due to land clearing, cattle grazing, intensive burning for firewood, or to construct streets and homes. Some 13 million hectares of forest - an area the size of Greece or Nicaragua - are cleared annually.

The Bonn Challenge was endorsed at the 2014 UN climate summit and supplemented by the New York Declaration on Forests, which calls for an end to deforestation by 2030.

"More than 60 million hectares are currently being reforested," Hendricks said. Speaking at the forests conference in Bonn, Germany, she added that "we are well on our way" toward achieving the 150 million hectare goal.

Massive deforestation

Supporters say the need couldn't be more pressing. In the Amazon rainforest alone, forests the size of seven soccer fields vanish every minute. Brazil has lost 10 percent of its forests - an area the size of France - between 1990 and 2000.

Indonesia, with 20 percent of forests lost over the past 20 years, is the only country to surpass Brazil, taking the number-one spot when it comes to forest destruction, there, 24 million hectares of forest have been destroyed, according to the UN.

Nigeria is in third place, followed by Tanzania, Zimbabwe, Sudan and the Democratic Republic of Congo.

Reforestation in Domican Republic (Photo: DW / Sascha Quaiser)

Reforestation, like that pictured here in the Domican Republic, involves arduous physical labor

Climate change and extinction

On the one hand, deforestation reduces biodiversity. On the other hand, every tree helps to store carbon, and thus work against climate change. Norway's Environment Minister Trine Sundtoft stressed that the initiative could make a decisive reduction in climate-changing carbon dioxide emissions.

"We are now at the point where just reducing emissions will not be enough," she said. "We must actively remove carbon out of the atmosphere - forest restoration is the most cost-effective carbon capture option we have," she added.

The US, Brazil, Guatemala, El Salvador, Costa Rica, Ethiopia, Uganda and Ruanda have all agreed to the reforestation initiative.

China is also making progress in reforesting large areas of land. To combat desertification, forested areas are supposed to expand to cover 23 percent of China's land area by 2020. Originally, nonnative and genetically-altered tree varieties were planted. These proved to be insufficiently robust, and are being replaced with native tree species.

Germany as trendsetter

Norbert Röttgen, the former German environment minister, crafted the forest initiative four years ago. At that time, 20 countries and another 60 representatives from science, industry and the World Bank were involved. Since then, numerous reforestation projects were launched, including in Brazil, Indonesia, Ethiopia, Kenya, Ghana, Laos, Rwanda and Vietnam.

The German government has allotted 40 million euros ($44 million) for additional projects in Latin America, southeast Asia and Africa with the goal of supporting robust natural forests.

Berlin also wants to bring attention to reforestation during its current G7 presidency, and at the upcoming G7 conference in Allgäu. The initiative is not limited to government entities - companies listed on Germany's DAX stock exchange, as well as medium-sized firms, have come together with the goal of protecting old forests from deforestation and promoting new tree growth.

The IUCN estimates that achieving the 150 million hectare reforestation goal by 2020 could not only reduce the current carbon dioxide emissions gap by 11 to 17 percent, but also generate more than $85 billion annually for local and national economies, and $6 billion in additional crop yields.

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